From the desert to the ski slopes, our next adventure took us to Tokyo on a group trip of sorts.
Japan, ah, Japan. I have not met anyone who does not love Japan, and after a 10 year hiatus, not counting our most recent couple trip just in August, we brought the kids on their maiden trip to Tokyo (just the 5 of us), and we all totally loved it. From the food, to the snow, to Disneyland, it was a trip that felt like a real holiday, that I didn’t feel I needed another holiday to recover.
It was a pretty last minute arrangement. The husband was scheduled to attend a 1.5 day course with 3 other people, and we would travel with their families on an arranged tour to Tokyo and to a ski resort in Manza, Gunma. We arrived a day earlier than the rest and checked into the Tokyo Mariott Shinagawa. The Tokyo Marriott is a very understated business hotel. In fact the reception is even tucked away in a corner. On Thursday morning at breakfast it felt as if we were the only tourists there; subsequent days were understandably less stuffy. I loved the small but excellent quality breakfasts. I wouldn’t mind staying there again, but the location doesn’t do it for me as a tourist.
Prior to the trip I was doing research on the hotel, and it listed that each room had a washer and dryer, which I thought very curious since it’s not a service apartment. I even wrote to them to double check but they were never able to really tell me whether it was a laundry washing machine or not. Turns out it wasn’t, and I still can’t figure out what they mean by “washer/dryer”! Is it maybe a wash basin? And hair dryer? Or ?? Maybe someone can help me “translate” what a washer and dryer could possibly mean.
Apart from that, the rooms at the Marriott are of a decent size, which means they are large in Tokyo terms. But then again, we were located in Shinagawa, a 9 minute walk from the Shingawa train station, so I think real estate here should be cheaper than smack in the middle of Shinjuku. The hotel is next to an office tower, and there is a regular bus shuttle to the Shinagawa station. There is also a small convenience store (Family Mart?) within the building.
On our first night we walked to the famous ramen stores “under” the Shinagawa train tracks – these are definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, and even include a Keisuke which some of us Singaporeans might be acquainted with.
Unfortunately, 10 out of the 12 stalls there were closed, apparently due to an earthquake. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait to long for a wonderful warm dinner on an otherwise chilly night, and we ended up eating at Nantsuttei, which incidentally is also in Singapore! The kids loved it.
As it was a group holiday, it also came with a full day tour. We didn’t need to follow the tour, but since many of my friends had recommended Ueno Park and Asakusa, and the tour was heading to Asakusa, and I was going to have to look after 3 kids by myself, we joined the tour.
The bad thing about any tour is waiting around for other people, and I was a little bummed we spent 30 minutes waiting around Tsukiji instead of having some awesome sashimi for brunch. And the route was more or less fixed.
The upside was we had a wonderful grandmotherly guide, and we really learnt a lot from her. She was so knowledgable and the kids and I learnt so much from her than I could have taught them myself. She even taught everyone a catchy “Ohaiyo, good morning” song sung to the tune of Happy Birthday. The kids have even changed it themselves to Konnichiwa and Oysuminasai (good afternoon and good night). It was also helpful to be with a group since I had the youngest kids. One pair of grandparents were always eager to help carry Scout when she was feeling particularly needy. After the first day my back muscles were over worked and I could hardly walk without wincing! So it was really a relief and blessing to have so many other hands around.
The kids enjoyed kicking the stones at the Imperial Palace (sorry, royal family), but it was of not much interest to them. We enjoyed walking around Asakusa, but most of all the kids and I enjoyed the sushi lunch there. They would have so enjoyed Tsukiji. From there we headed to Omotosande, which really wasn’t the best idea on a busy Saturday afternoon, as it was far too crowded.
The day before the tour, our plan was to take the kids to Tokyo Disneyland. It was pouring pretty hard in the morning, so we took our time to get ready, and by the time we left, lo and behold it was sunny! We had planned to take a train there, but as luck would have it at Tokyo station we found out the Keio line was down. I was really kicking myself for not checking one of the travel apps before we headed out, especially since I had been checking it the night before! Argh
So we then had to queue for a cab, which we could have actually done directly from the hotel had we known. By the time we actually reached Maihama, it was nearly noon so there was no queue for tickets. At this point I was definitely more excited than the kids. But oh dear, the ride I was looking forward to, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Busters, was not in operation. Then we thought we might do a tour but that was fully booked too! At least we managed to rent a stroller for ¥1000 which in my opinion is so worth it so we wouldn’t have to lug everything all around.
The weather was amazing. It was sunny, and my friend had warned me that it’s pretty windy since the park is by the bay, so we were ready with our jackets, which we only needed at the end of the day as the sun set. We started off with Star Tours, three rounds in total since there was no queue at all, and I would highly recommend it! I also think Scout would have enjoyed it but unfortunately she was too short for it.
After that we queued for quite a while for the Monsters Inc ride which wasn’t worth the queue at all. While the boys went on Space Mountain, Scout and I went on the Roger Rabbit ride, which wasn’t interesting either. I mean, Roger Rabbit is a little bit irrelevant to today’s age right? While the boys were still at another ride, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt which I loved in Hong Kong, was a 40 minute wait with no more fast passes. A short while later they closed the ride completely! So we missed out on the 2 best rides were down! Pinocchio’s ride was not too bad but my boys don’t know too much about the story.
I did study through Life’s Tiny Miracle’s great tips on maximising the day at Disneyland, and studied the maps before we went, but we enjoyed our time there together. I guess we’ll have to plan another trip back soon 🙂
In the end we had to leave early because we were trying to meet with the group for dinner. The taxi bay was completely empty at around 430pm, and we thought we’d have trouble finding a taxi, but soon 4 taxis arrived in a row (phew). I later saw that there were plenty of taxis at the Maihama train station. Just in case you happen to be there looking for taxis!
This trip was typical of our style, focussed on family time and experiences, rather than checking off the must-dos. Apart from perhaps the stroller-unfriendly stairs in train stations, Japan is extremely child friendly. The kids loved the food everywhere. People are polite and courteous. It is relatively safe, so we don’t feel the annoying paranoia that you might in other countries from which you constantly hear about kidnapping stories. We did however have to remind the kids that it can get very crowded and that not everyone can speak English to help them if they got lost. They learned a lot about the Japanese culture, about the varied use of Chinese characters (kanji), and I hope they were at least slightly impressed that this old dog can make use of her very rusty basic Japanese. This would definitely not be our last trip to Japan 🙂
Do read our next post on some beginners skiing tips for kids 🙂
Some tips: When we arrived at Haneda, we couldn’t find any booths to purchase SIM cards or Wifi routers, and were told that they don’t sell SIM cards readily, and you’d have to go to a particular area to buy it. In the end I saw this at the Lawson convenience store at Tsukiji. Pretty reasonable rates too.